What the Heck Is Translation Memory?

What the Heck Is Translation Memory?

by Translation Guy on July 16, 2015
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Have you heard about translation memory? Translators today have many tools of the trade to aid them in their work, like specialized dictionaries and term glossaries, but perhaps there are none as misunderstood as translation memory.

Translation memory has many benefits, which include helping translators be more consistent in their work, shortening the time required for translation and even reducing clients’ translation costs. But what exactly is translation memory?

Essentially, translation memory is a database that contains phrases or segments of a previously translated text. One is created for each new client. Then when a translator works on a text and encounters these previously translated segments, the translation memory software lets the translator know that a match has been found. This gives the translator the option to incorporate these pieces into the new translation. It is the translator’s job to determine whether the segments should be reused in that particular translation and in that specific instance, or if a new translation is required.

Translation memory is great for large and repetitive projects. For example, if a translator translated the name of an organization at the beginning of a long document, but then translated it a different way when they reached the end of the document, the reader would most likely be confused. Translation memory can prevent that scenario from happening and keep a translator’s work more uniform and consistent. This becomes even more important when multiple translators and issues of brand continuity are concerned.

When a translator has already successfully translated a particular sentence or phrase, expecting them to translate the same passage again is an inefficient use of the translator’s time. Translation memory allows a translator to be more productive and focus on translating passages that have not yet been translated. This translates into immediate cost and time savings.

While translation memory builds on what has already been translated, it is very important not to confuse it with machine translation. Translation memory is a tool that aids the translator, but it does not replace the essential human element. The translator is the one responsible for the original translation that the translation memory saves. The translation memory then depends on the translator’s judgement about whether the previously translated passage is a good fit in a specific case and should be reused or not. If not, then the translator will translate the passage like normal.

As translation memories grow, clients can see substantial savings in terms of translation cost and turnaround time, as well as greater translation consistency. Translation memory allows translators to use technology to do their jobs better.

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